Indians face Astros and seek consistency from starting pitching (May 20, 2017)

HOUSTON — With right-handers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar back in the fold and armed to complement right-hander Corey Kluber, a former Cy Young Award winner, starting pitching was considered the least of the Cleveland Indians’ concerns.

However, entering their weekend series with the Astros (29-13) at Minute Maid Park, the Indians (21-19) ranked last in the American League in starter’s ERA at 5.15. Of course, ERA isn’t the best indicator of overall effectiveness, and Cleveland starters did rank third in the AL in FIP (4.01) and first in strikeout rate (26.1 percent), so all isn’t horrible.

It wasn’t Friday night when Trevor Bauer improved to 7-0 against the Astros in a 5-3 win and the Indians look to get another decent starting pitching showing Saturday night.

Despite Bauer’s effectiveness in the series opener, Cleveland’s starters haven’t pitched with the level of consistency befitting their talent. That was a topic of discussion between Indians manager Terry Francona and his starting staff prior to the series opener.

“We visited with the starting pitchers and talked as a team a little bit,” Francona said. “Sometimes I think reminders are OK. Sometimes the manager, you wait too long and then you vent and it doesn’t help anybody but you. No one can understand anyway because you’re yelling. So, I just wanted to remind guys of who we are.

“I know we’ve had a lot of inconsistencies and there’s no special button you can push to stop that. But in the meantime, we’ve got to keep fighting for all the things that we believe in and that’s the best way to get through it anyway.”

Right-hander Mike Clevinger (1-1, 2.70 ERA) will start on Saturday for the Indians. It will mark just the third start of the season for Clevinger with Cleveland, which is using him while Kluber recovers from a lower back strain.

He made six starts with Triple-A Columbus before making his season debut on May 7 at Kansas City. Clevinger made one start against the Astros last season, allowing one run on two hits over 1 2/3 innings in a 6-2 home loss on Sept. 5.

Right-hander Mike Fiers (1-1, 5.75 ERA) will get the start for the Astros. Fiers is 2-0 with a 2.76 ERA over three career starts against Cleveland. He did not factor in the decision on April 27 at Progressive Field when he allowed two earned runs on five hits and three walks with three strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings in a 4-3 setback.

Before suffering just their fourth loss in 18 games, the Astros were rolling behind the top-scoring offense in the AL and the two-headed punch at the front of their rotation: left-hander Dallas Keuchel and right-hander Lance McCullers.

Right-hander Charlie Morton (5-3, 4.26 ERA) had won four consecutive starts before surrendering three homers in the opener, lending credence to the notion that Houston should trade for another starter to slot with Keuchel and McCullers.

With his increased velocity reaching the upper-90s, Morton has been a revelation. But his injury history and vulnerabilities can’t be disregarded.

“I think like any pitcher, execution is paramount,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of Morton. “As hitters see him more and more, it becomes even more important for him to execute pitches. Like any pitcher, the third time through the order is troublesome.”